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Education Reporter

Democrats in Texas Legislature Want to Strip Authority from State Board of Ed
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In March, the Texas Board of Education made several significant changes to the state's science curriculum standards (See Education Reporter, April 2009). Defenders of the changes said they protected critical thinking, free inquiry, and the scientific method in Texas public schools, by asking schools to help students to examine "all sides of scientific evidence . . . so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Critics of the new standards objected to the fact that they could lead teachers or students to question evolution, which these critics want to be taught dogmatically in Texas schools.

The board's deliberations and conclusions attracted national attention, especially because Texas, as the country's second-largest textbook market, influences the publishing industry that serves all 50 states. Texas is one of about 20 states that require local school districts to choose textbooks from lists approved by the state board (if the districts are to use state money for the books), so the board's textbook approval is just as important as its creation of curriculum standards.

The New York Times editorial page attacked the board and the new standards, and several other important liberal voices followed suit. The controversy spurred attempts by Texas legislators to strip authority from the board of education. Democrats in the Texas House proposed several ways to negate the board's power to set curricula and approve textbooks, and have now sent H.B. 710, which would subject the Board to review by the Sunset Advisory Commission, to the state Senate. This advisory commission could severely limit the board's powers, making the decision-making process on textbooks and curriculum less accountable to voters, placing such decisions in the hands of unelected officials, and burying the entire process under layer upon layer of bureaucracy. H.B. 710 passed the House after its proponents asked for a recount, which they blamed on "machine malfunction."

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) summed up the feeling of the primarily Democratic contingent making these proposals: "at this point, a lot of us are questioning . . . whether the state Board of Education serves a purpose anymore." Supporters of the board countered that the 15-person elected body represents ordinary Texas citizens who are politically involved and care about education. Board member Cynthia Dunbar said the legislature should consider the board's spirited debates on controversial issues in education as a good sign that the board represents the differing views of all Texans, on both left and right.

William Lutz of the Lone Star Report (4-17-09) said the state Board of Education is "the only place where average people, who can't hire lobbyists, can go and have their voices heard." Lutz called attention to the board's achievements and said that "before trying to neuter the elected State Board of Education, lawmakers may wish to consider the board's real record and accomplishments, not just the spin from turf-conscious educator groups and the social left."

Unless the board is disbanded or converted to an appointed board, eight of the 15 seats will be up for election in 2010. (Wall Street Journal, 4-13-09)

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